Have you seen the new public service commercials about whooping cough (which is another name for pertussis)? Or, rather, have you heard them? You can barely concentrate on the images or the voiceover because of the sounds of a baby coughing in the background. And it is a horrible, huge, wheezing, painful cough. It’s clearly a sound that should not be coming from a baby.
When I first saw the commercials, they made me wonder. Wasn’t whooping cough a thing of the past? Didn’t we all get vaccinated against it?
Yes. We did. But there have been times in which the support for vaccinations wanes, or in which people do not get booster shots, providing windows of opportunity for the illness to take hold again. And that’s happening now in several places across the country, with the most worrisome incidence in California, where five infants have died.
From ABC News:
"Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California," said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a statement. "Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot."
As of June 15, a total of 910 cases had been confirmed in the state. Another 600 suspected cases are currently being investigated by local health officials, the statement indicated.
The number of pertussis cases is now on a pace to surpass the total of 3,182 seen in the most recent major outbreak, which occurred in 2005, said Ken August, spokesman for the department. He expects the state to exceed that number this year.
From the New York Times:
Dr. Gilberto Chavez, the deputy director of the department’s Center for Infectious Disease, said health officials have already seen a fourfold increase compared with 2009. And the worst may be to come.
“The peak season starts in the summer,” Dr. Chavez said, noting that July and August usually have the highest number of cases. “And we expect to see a much larger number of cases if we don’t intervene quickly.”
For five families, however, the state’s warning has come too late.